Political Science

The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life, and here is the opening bit of the summary:

Human beings are primates, and primates are political animals. Our brains were designed not just to gather and hunt, but also to get ahead socially, often by devious means. The problem is that we like to pretend otherwise; we’re afraid to acknowledge the extent of our own selfishness. And this makes it hard for us to think clearly about ourselves and our behavior.

The Elephant in the Brain aims to fix this introspective blind spot by blasting floodlights into the dark corners of our minds. Only when everything is out in the open can we really begin to understand ourselves: Why do humans laugh? Why are artists sexy? Why do people brag about travel? Why do we so often prefer to speak rather than listen?

Like all psychology books, The Elephant in the Brain examines many quirks of human cognition. But this book also ventures where others fear to tread: into social critique. The authors show how hidden selfish motives lie at the very heart of venerated institutions like Art, Education, Charity, Medicine, Politics, and Religion.

Acknowledging these hidden motives has the potential to upend the usual political debates and cast fatal doubt on many polite fictions. You won’t see yourself — or the world — the same after confronting the elephant in the brain.

Due out January 1, 2018, of course this is essential reading.

Here is one bit from an excellent longer piece by Michael Kofman:

Russia’s gradual approach is inherently vulnerable, since it is based around fielding the bare minimum amount number of troops in the battlespace to achieve desired political ends.  In order to deter and dissuade peer adversaries Russia  will often introduce high-end conventional capabilities, such as long range air defense, anti-ship missiles, and conventional ballistic missile systems.  These weapons are not meant for the actual fight. Instead, they are intended to make an impression on the United States. The first goal of the Russian leadership is to make the combat zone its own sandbox, sharply reducing the options for peer adversaries to intervene via direct means.  America does this in its campaigns by attaining air superiority. Russia’s method is cheaper: area denial from the ground.

…Beyond its political objectives, Russia places strong emphasis on having an exit strategy.  In fact, a viable exit strategy seems just as important than whatever they are trying to achieve.  It is perhaps one key point where Russia’s leaders would agree with Weinberger and Colin Powell. But unlike the United States, they actually practice it.

The pointer is from the always-astonishing The Browser.

That is in the FT, here is the closing paragraph:

In most other ways, Cowen’s thesis is deeply troubling. Democracy requires growth to survive. It must also give space to society’s eccentrics and misfits. When Alexis de Tocqueville warned about the tyranny of the majority, it was not kingly despotism that he feared but conformism. America would turn into a place where people “wear themselves out in trivial, lonely, futile activity”, the Frenchman predicted. This modern tyranny would “degrade men rather than torment them”. Cowen does a marvellous job of turning his Tocquevillian eye to today’s America. His book is captivating precisely because it roves beyond the confines of his discipline. In Cowen’s world, the future is not what it used to be. Let us hope he is wrong. The less complacent we are, the likelier we are to disprove him.

The review very well captures the spirit and content of the book.  Here is Barnes&Noble, here is Amazon.  Here are signed first editions, here is Apple.

Senior state department officials who would normally be called to the White House for their views on key policy issues, are not being asked their opinion. They have resorted to asking foreign diplomats, who now have better access to President Trump’s immediate circle of advisers, what new decisions are imminent.

…“My nagging suspicion is that the White House is very happy to have a vacuum in the under-secretary and assistant secretary levels, not only at state but across government agencies, because it relieves them of even feeling an obligation to consult with experts before they take a new direction.”

Here is the article, solve for the equilibrium…

There’s two versions of this.

1. One or a small group of entrepreneurs owns the robots.

2. The government owns the robots.

I see how we get from where we are now to 1. How would we get to 2, and is 2 better than 1?

That is a comment and request from Mark Thorson.  It’s embedded in a longer thread, but I suspect you can guess the context.

I would focus on a prior question: what is government in a world where everything is done by the robots?  Say that most government jobs are performed by robots, except for a few leaders (NB: Isaac Asimov had even the President as a robot).  It no longer makes sense to define government in terms of “the people who work for government” or even as a set of political norms (my preferred definition).  In this setting, government is almost entirely people-empty.  Yes, there is the Weberian definition of government as having a monopoly on force, but then it seems the robots are the government.  I’ll come back to that.

You might ask who are the residual claimants on output.  Say there are fifty people in the government, and they allocate the federal budget subject to electoral constraints.  Even a very small percentage of skim makes them fantastically wealthy, and gives them all sorts of screwy incentives to hold on to power.  If they can, they’ will manipulate robot software toward that end.  That said, I am torn between thinking this group has too much power — such small numbers can coordinate and tyrannize without checks and balances — and thinking they don’t have enough power, because if one man can’t make a pencil fifty together might not do better than a few crayons.

Alternatively, say that ten different private companies own varying shares of various robots, with each company having a small number of employees, and millions of shareholders just as there are millions of voters.  The government also regulates these companies, so in essence the companies produce the robots that then regulate them (what current law does that remind you of?).  That’s a funny and unaccustomed set of incentives too, but at least you have more distinct points of human interaction/control/manipulation with respect to the robots.

I feel better about the latter scenario, as it’s closer to a polycentric order and I suspect it reduces risk for that reason.  Nonetheless it still seems people don’t have much direct influence over robots.  Most of the decisions are in effect made “outside of government” by software, and the humans are just trying to run in place and in some manner pretend they are in charge.  Perhaps either way, the robots themselves have become the government and in effect they own themselves.

Or is this how it already is, albeit with much of the “software” being a set of social norms?

Replacing social norms by self-modifying software –how big of a difference will it make for how many things?

Here are some names that could fit the bill according to the folks at DB:

Kevin Warsh – currently a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution, he served on the Board of Governors from 2006 until 2011. The report described him as “an experienced private financial market practitioner with strong Republican credentials”.

Jerome Powell – a current Fed governor “viewed as having conventional/centrist views about the economy and markets with slightly hawkish leanings”.

John Taylor – an economics professor at Stanford whose views “would fit with Republican views for a more rules-based Fed.” But, the report added, “his policy leanings — more aggressive rate increases and the stronger dollar that would result — would work against Trump’s pro-growth agenda.”

John Cochrane – another professor, from the University of Chicago with conservative leanings, whose “recent research has delved into more unorthodox topics, such as whether Fed policy rates and inflation could be positively related, i.e., that low policy rates may lead to low inflation and vice versa.”

That is from Jessica Dye at the FT, expect the list of names to evolve with time.

That is the new and excellent book by Jonathan Buchsbaum, offering the first comprehensive history of the debates over free trade and the “cultural exception,” as it has been called.  It is thorough, readable, and goes well beyond the other sources on this topic.

To be sure, I disagree with Buchsbaum’s basic stance.  He views “advertising dollars” as something attached to Hollywood movies like glue, giving them an unassailable competitive advantage, rather than an endogenous response to what viewers might wish to watch.  The notion that French or other movie-makers could possibly thrive by innovating and exploring new quality dimensions seems too far from his thought.  And he writes sentences such as: “France sought quickly to regulate multiplex development,” yet without wincing.

Perhaps his best sentence is the uncharacteristic: “Other commentators during the 1980s observed wryly that the only real European films were U.S. films, for only U.S. films succeeded in crossing borders in Europe.”

He spends a fair amount of time criticizing me, usually a positive feature in a book.  Furthermore, he delivers very strongly on the basic history and narrative, and draws upon a wide variety of sources.  So this one is definitely recommended to anyone with an interest in these topics.

China has banned almost 7m people from taking flights and high-speed trains over the past four years as a penalty for not repaying their debts, the country’s Supreme Court has announced.

The penalty system is part of efforts to build a nationwide “social credit” system that will eventually rate every Chinese citizen by collecting big data on financial, legal or social misdeeds. The debtors’ travel ban has been touted as an important first step for building the structural links needed to implement such a comprehensive monitoring programme.

“We have signed a memorandum . . . [with over] 44 government departments in order to limit ‘discredited’ people on multiple levels,” Meng Xiang, head of the executive department of the Supreme Court, told state media on Wednesday.

…In addition to not paying debts on time, one can also be blacklisted for lying in court, hiding one’s assets and a host of other crimes. The Supreme Court said on Tuesday it was working on adding new forms of penalties.

Here is the FT story by Yuan Yang.  Keep in mind that the country does not have a real personal bankruptcy law, nor well-developed credit institution penalties, so this is viewed as one of the few options available.

One of my favorites, David was great, here is the link to the podcast, video, and transcript.  Here is the opening summary of the chat:

Named one of the most influential Jewish thinkers of our time, Rabbi David Wolpe joins Tyler in a conversation on flawed leaders, Jewish identity in the modern world, the many portrayals of David, what’s missing in rabbinical training, playing chess on the Sabbath, Srugim, Hasidic philosophy, living in Israel and of course, the durability of creation.

Here are a few bits:

WOLPE: So as my friend Joseph Telushkin says, “Polygamy does exist in the Bible, it’s just never successful.” David does have many wives, and very strained and interesting and complex relationships with women. David has the most complicated and most described relationships with women of any character in the Hebrew Bible.

Those qualities that can be negative, in David are to some extent positive. One of the things that draws David out of the charge of simple narcissism is that he really listens, he pays attention — he pays attention to women over and over again. He listens to what they say and changes himself because of it. And that’s not a characteristic of men in the ancient world or the modern one that you can rely on.


COWEN: So again, I’m an outsider in this dialogue, but say I were thinking of converting to Judaism and I were asking you about Hasidic philosophy. Now in terms of some social connections, I probably would fit better into your congregation than into a Hasidic congregation. But if I ask you, on theological grounds alone, is there a reason why I should be hesitant about Hasidic philosophy? From the point of view of theology, what do you think is the greatest weakness there, or your biggest difference with it, given how much you like Heschel?


COWEN: How would you alter or improve rabbinical training?

WOLPE: I’ve given this a lot of thought. Let me just mention one area. When I speak to rabbinical students, I tell them all the time that the single most valuable commodity you have as a rabbi . . . you can answer that yourself, and then I’ll tell you what I think: your voice. Most people are going to come in contact with you when you speak to them. Not all of them, but most. There’ll be more people who come to your services than the number of people at whose bedside you will sit as they die.

And yet, most rabbis — most people — don’t know how to speak.

There is much more at the link, including about Israeli TV, where to visit in Israel, whether King David parallels Trump, the future of biblical commentary in a world of context-less social media, whether Canadian Jews are more likely to stick with the faith, whether Los Angeles is underrated, what is beautiful and significant in Islam, and the Iran nuclear deal and the settlements, among other topics.  Self-recommending…

And again, here is David Wolpe’s most recent book David: The Divided Heart, which was the centerpiece for the first part of the discussion.

There is a new NBER paper on this topic by Alexander Wagner, Richard J. Zeckhauser, and Alexandre Ziegler, here is the abstract:

The election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America on 11/8/2016 came as a surprise. Markets responded swiftly and decisively. This note investigates both the initial stock market reaction to the election, and the longer-term reaction through the end of 2016. We find that the individual stock price reactions to the election – that is, the market’s vote – reflect investor expectations on economic growth, taxes, and trade policy. Heavy industry and banking were relative winners, whereas healthcare, medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, textiles, and apparel were among the relative losers. High-beta stocks and companies with a hitherto high tax burden benefited from the election. Although internationally-oriented companies may profit under some plans of the new administration, several other arguments suggest a more favorable climate for domestically-oriented companies. Investors have found the domestic-favoring arguments to be stronger. While investors incorporated the expected consequences of the election for US growth and tax policy into prices relatively quickly, it took them more time to digest the consequences of shifts in trade policy on firms’ prospects.

Having read through the paper, this does not to me look mainly like a shift from consumers (domestically-oriented and retail stocks are doing well enough).  It is closer to “companies overall benefit from greater wealth creation, though some will benefit considerably more than others, with some trade worries built in.”  The tax component is significant.

Again, the market is often wrong, but this is at the very least a…um…”public relations problem” for the Democrats.  The worse you think Trump is, the worse this problem becomes!

And please, don’t tell me on Twitter about the stock market not predicting your favorite catastrophe from history.  That point would not pass through an Intro to Stats course intact.

I had heard and read so much about Dugin but had never read him.  The subtitle is Introduction to Neo-Eurasianism, and here were a few of my takeaway points:

1. His tone is never hysterical or brutish, and overall this comes across as scholarly (except for the appended pamphlet on “Global Revolution”), albeit at a semi-popular level.

2. He is quite concerned with tracing the lineages of Eurasian thought, thus the “neo” in the subtitle.  Nikolai Trubetzkoy gets a lot of play.  The correct theories of history are cyclical, and the Soviet Union was lacking in spiritual and qualitative development and thus it failed.

3. Dugin is a historical relativist, every civilization has different principles of development, and we must take great care to understand the principles in each case.  Ethnicities and peoples represent “inestimable wealth” and they must be preserved against the logic of a globalized, unipolar world.

4. Geography is primary.  Russia-Eurasia is a “steppe and woods” empire, whereas America is fundamentally an Atlantic, seafaring civilization.  Globalization tries to universalize what is ultimately quite a culture-specific point of view, stemming from the American, Anglo, and Atlantic mindsets.

5. Eurasian philosophy ultimately can contain, in a Hegelian way, anti-global philosophies, as well as the contributions of Foucault, Deleuze, and Debord, not to mention List, Gesell, and Keynes properly understood.

6. “It is vitally imperative for Turkey to establish a strategic partnership with the Russian Federation and Iran.”

7. The integration of the post-Soviet surrounding territories is to occur on a democratic and voluntary basis (p.51).  The nation-state is obsolete, so this is imperative as a means of protecting ethnicities and a multi-polar world against the logic of globalization.  Nonetheless Russia is to be the leader of this process.

8. “America’s influence is the most negative tendency in the world…”, and American think tanks and the media are part of this harmful push toward a unipolar world; transhumanism is worse yet.  Tocqueville, Baudrillard, and Dugin are the three fundamental attempts to make sense of America.  The Statue of Liberty resembles the Greek goddess of hell, Hecate.

9. The Eurasian economy must be subjugated to “higher civilizational spiritual values.”  City-dwellers are often a problem, as they too frequently side with the forces of globalization.

10. “Japan…is the objective leader of the Pacific.”  It must be liberated from the Atlanticist sphere of influence.  Nary a nod to China.

11. On Moldova: “Archaic?  Let it be archaic.  It’s great!”  At times he does deviate from #1 on this list.

12. Putin is his own greatest enemy because he leans too far in the liberal direction.

13. Dugin enjoys writing with bullet points.

14. “Soon the world will descend into chaos.”

Apart from whatever interest you may hold in these and other particulars, this is a good book for rethinking the notion of intellectual influence.  Very very few Anglo-American intellectuals have had real influence, but Dugin has.  That is reason enough to read this tract.

Addendum: Here is good background on what Dugin is up to these days.  His current motto: “Drain the swamp.”

What would you think of a Western democratic leader who was populist, obsessed with the balance of trade, especially effective on television, feisty and combative with the press, and able to take over his country’s right-wing party and swing it in a more interventionist direction?

Meet Robert Muldoon, prime minister of New Zealand from 1975 to 1984. For all the comparisons of President Donald Trump to Mussolini or various unsavory Latin American leaders, Muldoon is a clearer parallel case.

Here is the full Bloomberg column, much more at the link.

That is the 1936 book by British fascist Oswald Mosley, and it is arguably the clearest first-person introduction to the topic for an Anglo reader, serving up less gobbledygook than most of the Continental sources.  Mosley actually makes arguments for his point of view, and thinks through what possible objections might be, which is not the case with say Marinetti.  Beyond the basics, here are a few points I gleaned from my read:

1. Voting still will occur, at least once every five years, because “The support of the people is far more necessary to a Government of action than to a Democratic Government, which tricks the people into a vote once every five years on an irrelevant issue, and then hopes the Nation will go to sleep for another five years so that the Government can go to sleep as well.”

2. Voting will be organized by occupation, not geographic locality.

3. If an established British fascist government loses a vote, the King will send for new ministers, but not necessarily from the opposing party.

4. The House of Lords is to become much more technical, technocratic, and detailed in its knowledge, drawing more upon science and industry.  The description reminds me of the CCP State Council.

5. A National Council of Corporations will conduct much of economic policy, and as far as I can tell it would stand on a kind of par with Parliament.

6. “M.P.’s will be converted from windbags into men of action.”

7. A special Corporation would be created to represent the interests of women politically.  Women will not be forced to become mothers, but high wages for men will represent a very effective subsidy to childbirth.

8. The government will spend much more money on research and development, with rates of return of “one hundred-fold.”

9. Wages will be boosted considerably by cutting out middlemen and distribution costs.  The resulting higher real wages will maintain aggregate demand.  Cheap, wage-undercutting foreign imports will not be allowed.

10. Foreign investment abroad will be eliminated, as will the gold standard and foreign immigration into Britain.

11. “…foreigners who have not proved themselves worthy citizens of Britain will deported.”  And “Jews will not be afforded the full rights of British citizenship,” as they have deliberately maintained themselves as a distinct foreign community.

12. Any banker who breaks the law will go to jail, just as a poor person would.

13. Inheritance will not be allowed, but private property in land will persist and will be accompanied by with radically egalitarian land reform.

14. To restore the prosperity of coal miners, competition from cheap Polish labor and Polish imports will be eliminated.

15. The small shopkeeper shall be favored over chain stores, especially if the latter are in foreign or Jewish hands.

16. All citizens, rich and poor, are to have the right to an education up through age 18.  Overall there is considerable emphasis on not letting human capital go to waste, and a presumption that there is a lot of implicit slack in the system under the status quo ex ante.

17. Hospitals will be coordinated, but not nationalized.  That would be going too far.

18. Roosevelt’s New Deal is distinct from fascism because a) the American government does not have enough “power to plan,” and b) it relies on “Jewish capital.”

19. The colonies will sell raw materials to Britain, and produce agriculture for themselves, but will not allowed to compete in manufactures.  And this:  “If we failed to hold India, we should be 1/100th the men they were.”

20. By removing the struggle for foreign markets, fascism will bring perpetual peace.

Mosley was later interned from 1940 to 1943.

Saradhu Dhivar, 57, an unemployed villager, said he had daily spats with Mr. Koshle’s associates, arguing that Nimora had ample space to go “freestyle.” His food entitlements were withheld for a month, he said, until he built a toilet. It took days “to get used to this style,” he said.

There is much more:

In October, Mr. Koshle sealed a gap in the walls of a school whose large, grass-covered grounds had become a bathroom of choice. Dozens marched to his home in protest, wielding water buckets they carry for outside duty. They demolished the wall.

In December, Mr. Koshle got his police friends to stage the faux arrest of four locals he had instructed to relieve themselves outside—an attempt to strike fear, he said. He rented an auto-rickshaw with a loudspeaker, announcing that transgressors’ electricity supply would be cut.

Recently, teams of saree-clad women kept daily vigil around lakes and grassy fields from 4:30 a.m., shouting pro-toilet slogans and blowing whistles at offenders.

“Going to the toilet has become very political,” said Mr. Koshle. “You can’t imagine the hostility we’ve encountered.”

Don’t forget this:

“I like to take a walk,” said Luv Nishad, 35, a laborer in the village of Nagar, “and do my business away from where we sleep and pray.”

Here is the Niharika Mandhana WSJ story, via the excellent Samir Varma.

What is often missed—and, frankly, it would seem deliberately misrepresented in his own autobiographical works—is that in Italy, Modigliani, by age 20, was a well published fascist wunderkind, having received in 1936 an award for economics writing from the hand of Benito Mussolini himself. Further, in 1947, at age 29, Modigliani published a 75-page article whose title in English translation would be “The Organization and Direction of Production in a Socialist Economy” (Modigliani 1947), an article that affirms socialist economics. In 2004 and 2005 there appeared English translations of five fascist works by Modigliani originally published during 1937 and 1938 (all five translations are collected by Daniela Parisi in Modigliani 2007b). The socialist paper of 1947 has never been translated in its entirety, though the  Appendix to this profile contains excerpts selected and newly translated by Viviana Di Giovinazzo, to whom we are very grateful.

That is from Econ Journal Watch, by Daniel B. Klein and Ryan Daza, with Viviana Di Giovinazzo, and here is the broader page on the ideological histories of the Nobel Laureates (interesting throughout).  The point here is not to trash Modigliani, but rather to point out how thoroughly fascist ways of thinking can seep into a society.  Furthermore, fascism and other forms of authoritarianism rule are a massive tax on human creativity, as it is unlikely Modigliani could have turned his career around had his life under Mussolini’s regime persisted.